A new Internet of Things-enabled bus stop that helps people with disabilities better navigate public transport was recently unveiled by SAGE Automation and Local Motors at the CES show in Las Vegas.
Known as Accessible OlliStop, the autonomous bus Olli and the OlliStop have been designed to cater for disability and aged care groups, with the two communicating with each other via the internet to allow an interactive experience that is tailored to users’ individual needs.
Olli is a 3D-printed shuttle that uses IBM’s artificial intelligence platform Watson, which allows users to interact with the bus to receive help for reaching their destination.
OlliStop also uses Watson, as well as cameras, communication networks, voice recognition systems, sensors, lighting systems and software to talk to passengers so they can receive real-time travel information and assistance.
SAGE Automation has designed and manufactured the OlliStop control system from its Advanced Manufacturing Facility in South Australia, before sending the control system and other components for final assembly into the prototype in the US.
It has been designed to be usable by a wide range of people including those with disabilities such as hearing impairments – Kinect sensors and sign language displays on LCD screens allow deaf people to communicate with the system. Once the user is on the shuttle, a voice recognition system can connect directly to users’ hearing aids.
The system can also detect users who have vision impairments – a voice recognition system can talk to them at the bus stop, advise them on where an empty seat is and how far away the shuttle is. Users with dementia have also been catered to with OlliStop.
For example, once a user gets to the bus stop, the system will confirm where their destination is, which will be reinforced again once the user is on the bus to enable them to remember where they’re going.
OlliStop has also been designed to be relocatable within a few hours, which provides flexibility in trialling different ‘last mile’ locations to allow people to get home from major transport hubs. It is run off solar panels and batteries on the stop, with Damian Hewitt, project delivery manager at SAGE Automation, saying the quick evolution of this type of technology has enabled it to be powered by battery technology and solar technologies.
But the rapid pace at which technology is advancing has also added challenges, such as being able to understand what the next array of technologies are and making sure the system implements and upgrades to these technologies.
“What you’ll see on our bus stop [and the shuttle] is we’ve got a mixture of some … really highly-developed technologies, and then you’ll see others that are really in their early infancy,” Hewitt said.
“In the trial projects that we’re doing, we’re really trying to encourage and push innovation and push the development of these products to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Another challenge was the camera system that was deployed – at one point, it couldn’t be operated through the web portal the team was looking to set up as a centralised system, and could only be operated through an iPad solution.
“We had to change the network switches and configuration within our stop to enable that to be done from a web portal perspective so that it can be monitored from a centralised control centre. There was a bit of work that had to be done around that,” Hewitt said.
Other challenges involved design aspects, such as the ramp for wheelchair access and ensuring it was at the right angle; ensuring Olli would meet the bus stop with less than a centimetre gap; and the height of the bus stop, given a bus moves up or down based on the number of passengers it’s carrying.
The prototype on display at CES gave users a glimpse of what the bus stop could do, with visitors given a card with an RFID tag that identified different personas, such as someone with a vision impairment or someone in a wheelchair.
As the person moved through the bus stop, a range of processes were activated based on the persona, such as a ramp being automatically deployed for wheelchair users.
Hewitt said the feedback was positive, with the team also learning about how to improve the bus stop, such as a screen being too high for some users. It is still currently in prototype stage, with SAGE Automation manufacturing two b
us stops for a trial zone in South Australia, which will be deployed in September, but a commercialised product could be released by the end of this year.
“The testing will primarily be with the autonomous vehicle sector, so really it’s about allowing for all autonomous vehicles to be able to connect and utilise a bus stop,” Hewitt said.
“It’s about us working with the supplier chain and making sure that we’re starting to create a standardised communication method so we can be universal and share the data. That’s a big focus of what we’re working on now.”